Fischer ex de Candolle, Prodr. 1: 50. 1824.
Stems (15-)30-100 cm. Basal leaves 2×-ternately compound, 10-40 cm, much shorter than stems; leaflets green adaxially, to 14-68 mm, not viscid (petioles and petiolules viscid in var. hypolasia ); primary petiolules 16-95 mm (leaflets not crowded), glabrous or pilose. Flowers nodding to pendent; sepals perpendicular to floral axis, red, elliptic to lanceolate, 10-26 × 4-9 mm, apex broadly acute to acuminate; petals: spurs red, straight, ± parallel, 13-21 mm, stout, abruptly narrowed near middle, blades yellow, oblong, rounded, or obsolete, 0-6 × 4-6 mm; stamens 12-17 mm. Follicles 15-25(-29) mm; beak 9-12 mm.
Varieties 3 (3 in the flora): North America, Mexico.
The type specimen of Aquilegia formosa var. fosteri S. L. Welsh, described from southwestern Utah, has viscid leaves with short petiolules and crowded leaflets, erect, dark red flowers with slender, evenly tapering spurs, and long (19 mm) stamens. Aside from the red sepals and spurs, it has little in common with A . formosa and its relatives. The crowded leaflets, erect flowers, and evenly tapering spurs are reminiscent of A . scopulorum , and it could be a hybrid involving that species, but it is not clear what the other parent might be. The taxonomy of Aquilegia in southwestern Utah is complex, with six species known and several hybrid combinations apparently formed; satisfactory disposition of this name will require further work in the area.
Native Americans used Aquilegia formosa for various purposes: as a charm to gain the affections of men or to retain wealth and possessions; medicinally, seeds were chewed to alleviate stomach aches, and leaves were chewed or used in infusions to treat coughs, colds, and sore throats (D. E. Moerman 1986, varieties not indicated).